Outgoing Police Chief Trevor Whipple

A Changing of the Guard: Whipple Retires, Burke Sworn in as Police Chief

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Thursday October 04, 2018

The police honor guard had marched in and planted the flags. Outgoing South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple had taken his seat, as had his successor, Shawn Burke, a Burlington police officer for 21 years. About 75 people had jammed into the South Burlington police squad room on Sept. 28 — friends, family, city officials, police from neighboring communities. South Burlington officers and firefighters ringed the room.

Lt. Gregg Jarrett, emcee for the change-of-command ceremony, stood at the podium and looked at Whipple. “Ready?”

“I changed my mind,” Whipple joked.

“Welcome back, Shawn,” Brandon del Pozo, the Burlington police chief, instantly said to Burke.

The moment reflected the flavor of the event last Friday — full of hugs and handshakes, laughter and a few tears, and a sense of continuity — that one terrific police chief is being succeeded by another. Clearly, Whipple’s thoughtful approach to policing had earned tremendous respect from his officers, and they had found a comfort level with Burke while he spent two months as Whipple’s assistant chief.

“This is a very important day for South Burlington,” said City Manager Kevin Dorn, who praised Whipple’s leadership — the sense of calm he extends throughout the community, his grace in handling difficult issues, and his initiatives. Among them, centralized emergency dispatch, reaching out to people of color, and pairing up mental health workers with police because so many emergency calls are not for crimes, but related to mental health issues.

Burke spoke briefly and said that, because of Whipple’s leadership, South Burlington residents know their police and trust their police. He promised to continue that style of policing.

Just two rules

When Whipple agreed to have a change-of-command ceremony, he set two rules: No speeches and no plaques.

Fat chance.

Aides to U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch read notes from their bosses, and two presented American flags that had flown over the U.S. Capitol. South Burlington police gave Whipple a framed display containing, among other things, his badge, his uniform patch, his stars of rank, and an explanation of how Whipple inspired the force. Police also gave Whipple a U.S. flag that had flown over the South Burlington Police Station.

When it was his turn, Whipple joked that the ceremony showed how closely his orders are followed.

Whipple started his police career on July 13, 1980, in Barre, and it ended when he left the police station on Friday. Whipple choked up for a moment as he thanked Kathy, his wife of 33 years, for putting up decades of stress that always trickle into a police officer’s home.

“I’ve seen a little boy run over by a school bus,” Whipple said, and had to break the news to the child’s mother.

On the other hand, he recalled coming across a broken-down limousine with a frantic bride inside, and delivering her to the church, blue lights flashing, and becoming part of the wedding party.

After thanking officers, officials, and the community, Whipple urged the city to continue to make mental health a priority, to meet people where they are, and to help them. South Burlington no longer treats addicts as just criminals; compassion is part of policing.

He offered a quote from writer Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Whipple held aloft a letter from a woman who was injured in a domestic violence case six years ago and had to go to the emergency room. Officer Nick Holden met her there, but she refused to cooperate, refused to talk with him, would not work with him to get her out of the abusive situation. But he kept talking, trying to help.

“What he said changed my life,” she wrote. “I have value. I don’t have to live in this relationship.” Though she didn’t cooperate, she took action immediately. She did not go back to where she was. She has since built a new, healthy life. And now, six years later, she wanted to say thanks.

That, Whipple said, is symbolic of modern policing.


SOURCE: Tom Kearney, The Other Paper